Fine characterization of the effects of aquifer heterogeneity on solute transport: A numerical sandbox experiment

Yuefen Zhang, Chuanhao Wu, Bill X. Hu, Tian Chyi Jim Yeh, Yimin Hao, Wenhan Lv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hydraulic conductivity (K) and the specific storage coefficient (S) are among the most important hydrogeological parameters of an aquifer. Traditionally, the hydrogeological parameters of a field aquifer system are mainly determined through a range of experiments that are both time-consuming and of poor operability. To accurately characterize aquifer heterogeneity, a synthetic sandbox is constructed using VSAFT2 (Variably Saturated Flow and Transport utilizing the Modified Method of Characteristics, in 2D) as a reference aquifer system by incorporating multilevel a priori geologic information into the sandbox configuration. The spatial distribution of the field of hydraulic conductivity (i.e., K) is inversely obtained by hydraulic tomography (HT). Then HT is compared with traditional kriging-estimated method in the fine characterization of aquifer heterogeneity, and the optimal K field is eventually selected to predict the solute transport. The influence of the number of pumping cycles on the accuracy of heterogeneity characterization is also discussed. The results show that the accuracy of the inversely obtained K field is improved with the increased number of pumping cycles. When incorporating multilevel a priori geological information, HT can characterize aquifer heterogeneity more finely than traditional kriging, and there is also a very good fitting of solute transport between the optimally estimated K field and the reference K field. Our study highlights the importance of the fine characterization of aquifer heterogeneity for the prediction of solute transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2295
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Hydraulic tomography
  • Multilevel a priori information
  • Sandbox experiment
  • Solute transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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